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How Covid (nearly) stole Christmas


How Covid (nearly) stole Christmas

The Covid pandemic brought a whole new set of rules to life in 2020, but after a year of lockdowns and limited socialising JULIE LAKE is confident that for all but the Grinchiest, Santa Claus is still coming to town.

If you were dreaming of a white Christmas this year, you’ll be disappointed because trips to snowy northern climes are on hold, but there are plenty of ways to celebrate the festive season in south-east Queensland.

Traditionalists will be glad to know that the churches are still planning a busy Christmas program in compliance with government requirements for appropriate indoor social distancing.

The popular St Stephen’s Cathedral sound and light show in Brisbane is delighting after-dark visitors from now until Christmas Eve and other churches are making similarly  imaginative efforts to bring some joy to their many parishioners who have had a tough year.

Those who like to share the Christmas story with their grandchildren will find plenty of child-friendly activities close to home, from carol singing to nativity scenes.  Those unable or unwilling to attend services can tune in online.

Churches everywhere are, however, advising people to keep checking for updates to Christmas services and programs, due to the unpredictability of the Covid situation.

This is particularly important for those whose churchgoing is confined to Christmas and Easter and who won’t be getting this information in their parish news updates.

The information is readily available online for Sunshine Coasters.

The site is a good guide to church and other events, and includes Covid updates.

It appears that for the average Your Time reader Christmas 2020 is not going to be strikingly different from those of previous years.

“This shows how lucky we are,” says retired school bus driver Daphne Pilger, who had intended to visit her daughter in Tasmania in December, but is now planning a Christmas Day gathering of other family members at her newly-renovated home.

“I think the feeling is ‘stay close to home, keep safe, enjoy what you’ve got’,”Daphne says.

She adds that in our region what we’ve got is great beaches, warm weather, big backyards and lots of lovely countryside in which to take day trips and picnics.

Indeed, almost everyone interviewed mentioned the beach as the focus of their Christmas activities this year.

However, there are a couple of differences about Christmas 2020.  For one thing, significant numbers have chosen to buy gifts online rather than risk crowded stores, and this includes the traditional Boxing Day sales, known electronically as Cyber Boxing Day.

Other online “click” sales have already dominated November’s Christmas shopping sprees.

To meet this demand, suppliers have had to gear up their delivery procedures and take on extra staff.

Australia Post also hired thousands of extra workers to help them handle the bigger-than-usual number of parcels and mail being sent interstate and overseas to families separated by travel restrictions.

Executive general manager of business Gary Starr says it has been the busiest festive season ever for the organisation.

According to Queensland University of Technology marketing professor Gary Mortimer, the trend is here to stay, with the consistently-growing online retail sales figure doubling this year.

Another difference is that for the first time in decades, Queenslanders have first dibs on holiday accommodation.

Victorians and others from south of the border who usually book up the beachside units, holiday homes and campsites are not coming.  Even those who are allowed to travel here are reluctant to risk it in case of a sudden Covid outbreak ramping up restrictions, as happened to South Australia last month.

And locals have been quick to grasp the opportunity, with accommodation owners reporting healthy bookings by people from around the state, according to Visit Sunshine Coast’s interim CEO Craig Davison.

The organisation has been encouraging Queenslanders to holiday in their own regional backyard through strategically-targeted marketing campaigns.

Michael Harper of Luxury Afloat in Noosa says bookings for his houseboats are slightly down this year and tend to be shorter in duration, but regardless, he is still largely booked out for Christmas and New Year and expects to fill remaining vacancies before Christmas.

His bookings are all from Queensland, mainly Brisbane, inland and up to Hervey Bay. In fact, he is not taking interstate bookings at all right now because a Covid outbreak could see him having to pay refunds and risk losing viable Queensland business.

South of Brisbane, hot air balloon operator Greg Daven says business is definitely different this year without international visitors who tend to go for the lifetime adventure market.  He is also finding that some of the approximately four million people of south-east Queensland are prepared to take up some of the adventure tourism slack this Christmas. Last-minute bookings are still available.

While young families are prepared to risk going away — some places are promising refunds if Covid returns —  many older people are cautiously opting to stay home.

Or else are not going far … for example 60-something realtor Nicola P. and her family –husband, son and grandchildren – plan to holiday in the Noosaville unit where they have spent Christmas for the past 15 years with one major difference this year – no presents.

“My daughter-in-law was laid off her job in events management and my son, a pilot, has also been out of work for months, finding driving jobs where he can,” Nicola says.

“My student granddaughter can’t find the usual holiday season retail job, so we are pooling our resources for a bang-up Chrissie dinner and that’s it!”

If Christmas 2020 is proving to be largely business as usual for most south-east Queenslanders, New Year’s Eve is likely to be much more subdued.

Restaurants and clubs are reporting good bookings but for many it’s a case of minimising risk.

Brenda Clemm says in her younger days she always enjoyed seeing in the New Year with a drink and a song but, “since we retired we don’t go to big parties any more;  we just get together with a few friends, go out to dinner, then watch the fireworks on TV.

“This year we’re not even doing that because it seems prudent to stay away from places where people are kissing and hugging and singing,” she says.

“Instead, my partner and I are going to celebrate New Year’s Day, which when you come to think of it makes more sense.  We’ll avoid the beach crowds and find somewhere quiet in the country to have a family picnic and celebrate how lucky we are to live in Queensland.”

The times they are a changin’ and this year of Covid just may set the course for more restrained celebrations in future. The commercialism that has been steadily increasing year-on-year for decades has been pulled up.

“I hope this year’s more subdued celebrations will remind people of the true spirit of Christmas – caring and sharing, peace and goodwill, not just an excuse for a party and extravagant presents,” was a sentiment commonly expressed.

In fact, doing it differently has become something of a challenge for those not haunted by the ghost of Christmas past, such as the couple who have booked a balloon flight complete with champagne and hamper as a present to each other.

It gives a whole new meaning to Ding, Dong Merrily on High!

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy New Year.

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